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How to try out Linux

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Gerwin Jansen, EE MVE
Apple, BananaPi, Debian, EE, Hardware, MBP, Oracle, SQL, Raspberry Pi, Scripting, Testing, Tibco

1. Introduction


As many people are interested in Linux but not as many are interested or knowledgeable (enough) to install Linux on their system, here is a safe way to try out Linux on your existing (Windows) system.

The idea is that you install an application first that gives you a virtual environment. In that virtual environment, you install the Linux distribution that you want to try out.

Virtual environments you can use for this are VMware Player that is free for personal use or Oracle VirtualBox that is free (GPL) for enterprise use as well.
 

2. Install virtual environment


To get you setup, you need to download a few things, you can get VMware Player here: https://my.vmware.com/web/vmware/free#desktop_end_user_computing/vmware_player/7_0

Or alternatively Oracle VirtualBox here: https://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Downloads

This article focuses on VMware Player, so we'll continue with that from here.

After downloading VMware Player, start the installation; the file is called VMware-player-7.1.0-2496824.exe or similar. If you have an existing installation of VMware Player, the previous version will be uninstalled first.

The installation will add some virtual network interfaces (and may ask for a reboot):
vmwp-vnet.png
Now start VMware player:
vwmp-start.png
Since version 7 of VMware Player you have to enter a valid mail address to be able to use the player for personal use:
vwmp-start-license.png
VMware Player is now set up and ready for use.
vwmp-started.png 

3. Select and download a Linux distribution


Now that you have your virtual environment setup, you have to select and download a Linux distribution. If you already know which distribution you want to try, just go to that site and download the distrubition in .ISO format. For example:
CentOS - https://centos.org/
Fedora - https://getfedora.org/
openSuse - https://www.opensuse.org/en/
Ubuntu- http://www.ubuntu.com/download

There are several types of distributions, like server, desktop/workstation or cloud. When trying out Linux, we will be looking at a desktop/workstation distribution.

An alternative way of 'finding' your distribution to try is to go to the http://distrowatch.com/ site that is keeping track of almost every Linux distribution out there.

For now, we're going to setup a Fedora Workstation which is currently at release 21. Download the .ISO file here: https://getfedora.org/en/workstation/download/

Put the .ISO file in a known location, as you will need it in the next step when installing your Linux distribution. 

4. Installing your Linux distribution


Start VMware Player and choose "Create a New Virtual Machine", select "Installer disc image file (iso):" and browse to and select the dowloaded .ISO file from the previous step:
vwmp-fc1.pngNote that the New Virtual Machine Wizard may not recognize which operating system the .ISO contains. If it does recognize then an easy setup will become available, but if not then you can specify the operating system in the next step:
vwmp-fc2.pngSpecify a location for storing the new virtual machine. Note that a removable drive was specified for the location, both for storage considerations as well as portability:vwmp-fc3.pngNote: you can store the virtual machine on a local drive or removable drive. One benefit of storing on a removable drive is that you save local storage as virtual machines can take up quite some space. Another benefit is that you can take your virtual machine with you and start it on other systems that have VMware Player installed. A downside is that the virtual machine is running somewhat slower when it is stored on a removable device.

For testing, the default Disk Capacity settings will be just fine:
vwmp-fc4.pngThere is no need to customize hardware now, but if you want, check the 'Customize' button. Otherwise press Finish to complete the new virtual machine definition:
vwmp-fc5.pngNow you are ready to 'play' with your new Virtual Machine (VM). Note that the VM has been defined now but not yet installed. You've now set up everything for VMware Player to start (boot) your VM, so the next step is to start it or as it's called in VMware Player to 'Play' it:
vwmp-fc6.pngThe first startup of a VM may trigger the download of updates or tools for VMware Player, so just acknowledge the popup if you get it. When the update has finished, you can Close the Software Updates screen:
vwmp-fc7.pngvwmp-fc8.pngNow let's get back to the VMware Player main screen. Because we've started (played) the VM that we've defined, it started (booted) from the .ISO file that was selected as Installer Disc Image file. The Fedora 21 Workstation distribution is a so-called Live Image so this means that the complete Linux environment has been started up already for you to give it a first try:
vwmp-fc9.pngThe Fedora 21 Workstation Live distribution gives you 2 options: Try.. or Install.. The easiest for quick testing is "Try Fedora" but if you want to do some more testing use "Install to Hard Drive". Note that the installation to hard drive will be done to the virtual hard drive of 20Gb (see above) that consists of file(s) on your physical hard drive. No installation will take place on your computer's hard drive.
 
We'll continue the installation from here using "Install to Hard Drive" option.

After choosing "Install to Hard Drive", you are asked for following during installation:
  • Installation language and keyboard layout (choose)
  • System - Installation Destination (select it and choose Done)
  • Installation Summary - Begin Installation
While installation is taking place (this can take 10-20 minutes), you are prompted to enter a Root password (for maintenance purposes) and a user account (so you can log on):
vwmp-fc10.pngWhen the setup (configuration) has finished, select "Finish Configuration" so setup can finalize your installation. This will take another 5-10 minutes after which Fedora is installed and is ready for use. Select "Quit" to start using your VM. Shut down your VM from within the VM using the power button, located in the right upper corner in Fedora.

Now start your new VM by selecting it and pressing the 'Play' button. Fedora Workstation will start and will present you with a screen that enables you to log on and start trying out your Linux distribution. Use the user you created in the previous step to logon:
vwmp-fc-running.png
 

5. Some tips on using VMware Player


When you've installed your first VM, it will show up in the VMware Player main screen on the left side. From there you can select a VM, modify its settings, start it (Play) or resume it from Suspend mode.

You can for example disconnect the .ISO file that was used for installation by editing the Virtual Machine Settings, under 'CD/DVD (IDE)' and select "Use physical drive" instead of "Use ISO image file", or add more memory to the VM under the 'Memory' device.

When you are 'Playing' a VM, the VMware Player screen has a several interesting options at the top menu bar:
vwmp-options.pngLeft hand side:
  • Player menu - options for managing you VMs, suspending, and getting Help
  • Pause button - options to suspend, restart or shutdown your VM
  • A ctrl-alt-delete button - to send the 3-key combination to your VM
  • A full screen butten - to run your VM in full screen, leaving the VMware Player menu at the top of the screen (almost hidden)
Right hand side:
  • Several hardware buttons - to connect/disconnect hardware from the VM to the host and back
  • Window buttons - minimize, exit full screen and close
 

 

6. Done trying out?


When you're done trying out a Linux distribution, there is a very easy way to get rid of it. From the main screen of VMware player, right click the VM and select "Delete from disk" to remove it completely.

Not just done yet? Just download anyother Linux distribution and set it up like demonstrated. You may find other distributions easier to work with as there are several 'desktops' being used like KDE, Gnome or XFCE.
 

Thanks for reading this article. If you find it useful, you can click 'Good Article' below. If not, any feedback is welcome so I can update/improve this article. You can always send me a message. Thanks!
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